NFL

The relocation of the Chargers to Los Angeles

The San Diego Chargers have announced that they will relocate to Los Angeles, after failing to come to an agreement with the city of San Diego on either a new stadium or upgrades to their existing stadium, which is one of the oldest in the NFL.
It is assumed that the Chargers will be tenants with the LA Rams at their new stadium in Inglewood CA which is scheduled to open in time for the 2019 season.
In the meantime, it seems that the Chargers intend to play at Stubhub Stadium in 2017 and 2018. This is a very small stadium by NFL standards, with a capacity of only about 30,000.
The move to a smaller stadium in the short term is, however, likely to have only a limited imoact on the overall team revenues. This is because almost 50% of an NFL team’s revenues is from their pro-rated share of the overall NFL television rights revenues. That is a lot of money each year, and it keeps going up. For 2015, the Green Bay Packers, who are the only NFL team to publish annual accounts, because they are owned by the public, reported TV revenues of $222.6m – 54% of their total revenues in what is a small local market compared to many other teams. The national TV revenue number is rumoured to be rising to over $240m in 2017.
The Chargers are in the middle of the pack on total spending on players, as reported here. They are going to have reduced home game revenues, but they will still share away game revenues from full-sized stadium. To put it in math terms, if their seat and other spending revenues from Stubhub are 50% of the revenues from San Diego, that will still equate to only a 25% drop in game-day revenues, since half of their games are road games. Since about 50% of their revenues come from TV income, the overall impact on revnues will be (at most) 12.5% for the next 2 seasons, and if TV revenues keep on rising, that number may be a lot less.
The Chargers are thus accepting a modest short-term reduction in revenues for the chance to earn more money from premium seating and access to the LA market from 2019. They do have the option of selling PSLs and season tickets, so they could extract a lot of one-time revenues starting in 2018. (This article, interestingly, explains that the PSL opportunities in San Diego were judged to be very limited, and PSL sales in other sports markets have not exactly been big sources of revenue recently, so the 49ers may be an anomaly.), However, the 49ers revenue from PSLs has apparently failed to meet forecasts, in part because the recent performance of the team in Levis Stadium has been poor which has led to a slump in the sales of both PSLs and season tickets. The deal between the 49ers and the Stadium Authority is structured such that failure of the PSL sales to meet forecasts could convert Levis Stadium into a financial loser for the city of Santa Clara.
It is not clear to me what the Chargers will be able to do for other sources of revenue once they arrive in Inglewood as tenants instead of stadium owners or sole occupiers. Many other NFL teams have naming rights deals for their stadiums, which bring in a lot of extra money annually. Since Rams owner Stan Kroenke will own the Inglewood stadium, with the Chargers as tenants, if he does have a naming rights deal for the stadium, it seems unlikely that the Chargers will benefit from it. However, given that the existing naming rights deal with Qualcomm in San Diego was only worth just over $1m per year, you can make the argument that the Chargers have little to lose financially by not having a naming rights deal in future.
I hope that the tenancy deal that the Chargers have with the Rams does not vary the costs dependent on the final cost of the new stadium. Stadium projects are notorious for blowing past initial cost and timeframe estimates.
As to whether the LA area can support 2 NFL teams; only time and on-field performance will determine that. However, the relocations of the Rams and Chargers (and the probable move of the Oakland Raiders) are occurring because cities are increasingly unwilling to provide large sums of public money to build new stadiums for professional sports franchises. If the NFL growth stops or reverses, these moves may be seen as the high water mark for NFL ambitions.
UPDATE 1This article does a good job of summarizing the teeth-grinding self-serving duplicity that NFL owners engage in as they seek to corral ever more public money for their stadiums and related amenities.
UPDATE 2This article explains some of the twisted dynamics behind the final decision by the Chargers to move to LA.. This article explains how the long-standing absence of an NFL team in the LA basin, plus old animosities, has been a major contributor to the current mess. The maximum spin-cycle letter from Roger Goodell looks even more like a zero-credibility pile of BS after you read the article.
UPDATE 3This comment from FieldOfSchemes reminds us of why and how the Chargers ended up in San Diego in the first place

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The dynamics of GM and Head Coach and personnel control in hiring

Ever since Bill Parcells’ famous quote about his desire to control the roster of any NFL team for which he was the head coach, it has been customary for many NFL head coaching candidates to seek control over the player roster of their teams.
The track record of coaches at controlling and managing rosters is at best a mixed one. For some coaches, it is yet another distraction from the high-intensity business of coaching.
Ownership in NFL franchises has become very adept at window-dressing when it comes to who controls roster decisions. This is partly because, ultimately, the person with the check book controls the roster, and that is the owner or the ownership group. No matter how much many franchises attempt to portray their GM and coach as being in total control of the roster, it is an inescapable reality that sometimes owners fall in love with players who are in the NFL draft or free agent pool, and sometimes insist that they be selected or recruited, or even played when they are not ready or a good fit for the team. That seldom gives good results, since the owner is basically disenfranchising their own in-house leadership. However, it happens.
There are also numerous franchises where the head coach is really in control of the roster, and the GM effectively works for the head coach. However, you could not guess this if you looked at the org chart. A good example is the New England Patriots, who do not have a GM, and where Nick Caserio, the Director of Player Personnel, works for Bill Belichick. Belichick has control of the roster, and he may be one of the few coaches in the NFL who does enjoy total control.
The historical rule of thumb has been that the coach works for the GM, so if a franchise fires its head coach and GM (which often happens, as the owners clean house), the normal expectation that the GM is hired before the head coach. If it happens the other way round, the risk is that the GM finds himself with a head coach that he did not select, and ultimately cannot form a constructive working relationship with.
The 49ers are now looking for both a GM and head coach, having fired their previous GM and head coach at the end of the season. They have apparently struck out once already on the GM front, with Nick Caserio declining to interview for the GM position. I am expecting that the 49ers will struggle to fill both open positions, given the bizarre public comments of Jed York, which, frankly, made him look like a petulant child. They appear to have interviewed GM candidates already, and somebody will ultimately take the job. However, whether that person has the skills and freedom to succeed is an open question.

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The astonishingly narrow view in the NFL on coach hiring

We are now into the mad annual scramble where all of the NFL teams that fired their head coach and/or General Manager are trying to hire replacements.
It’s a short compressed hiring cycle, because the NFL Draft takes place in April, and teams want their entire coaching and scouting staffs to be in place ASAP so that they can go evaluate all draft candidates and try to decide who to pick in that annual lottery. There is also free agency which begins in the second week of March at the start of the new league year.
6 teams fired one or both of their head coach or GM. There are weird rumours that the Houston Texans may end up looking for a head coach soon due to friction between Bill O’Brien and team leadership, but those are definitely stretch rumours, given that the Texans are still in the playoffs.
There is a long-standing rumor that the LA Rams want to trade for a head coach from another team (names like Sean Payton or Sean Payton keep being mentioned). Needless to say, in true military and political fashion, all of the parties potentially involved are denying this is a possibility (which leads many cynics to conclude that it will indeed happen).
The list of known candidates for the teams is generally agreed, and it is a depressing list, not because of the candidates themselves, all worthy people, but because it shows (a) the lack of imagination in NFL hiring practices, and (b) the sameness of NFL franchises when it comes to hiring.
The list of candidates for NFL teams always consists of most or all of the following:

1. The interim head coach (if the previous head coach was fired during the season. This may or may not be a serious interview)
2. One or two non-serious minority guys (to allow the team to comply with the Rooney Rule)
3. Hot Co-ordinators
4. Any Hot College Coach presumed to be interested or possibly persuabable to come to the NFL
4. Former NFL head coaches who have re-established themselves as co-ordinators
5. Former NFL head coaches out of the game (if they can interest them)
6. Other position group coaches who may be Hot (usually temporarily based on this year’s results)

Recently fired head coaches will either sit on their buyout money for a season or join a new head coach on his staff. They rarely get a shot at another head coaching interview (Chip Kelly last year was an exception, but see what just happened to him?)

The result of this reasoning loop is that, leaving aside the interim coaches (who mostly do not get the job), the list is a fairly short one. It currently seems to consist of the following:

Hot Co-Ordinators: Kyle Shanahan (very hot), Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia (I wonder which team they work for?), Harold Goodwin, Frank Reich, Anthony Lynn
Minority Guys: Teryl Austin, Teryl Austin, some guy named Austin
Hot College Coaches: NONE (some guy named Nick Saban continues to insist he is not interested)
Former Head Coaches: Mike Smith
Ex Head Coaches: NONE (they are on TV for a reason – it’s a lot more fun than running an NFL team)
Other Position coaches: Tom Cable (also former head coach)

The Rooney Rule is, sadly, being used as a fig-leaf by many teams to obscure the reality that, mostly owned by crusty old white guys, they tend to want a white guy in charge of the players. Teryl Austin has publicly declined at least one interview with a team in the past once he determined that he was not a serious candidate, and the team was possibly simply trying to comply with the Rooney Rule.
Teams always try to hire a Hot Co-ordinator first. They are drawn to them like moths to a flame. When the Dallas Cowboys began winning Superbowls in the early 1990’s, his offensive and defensive co-ordinators (Norv Turner and Dave Wannstedt) were snapped up in short order to become head coaches. Neither man has proved to be a consistently good head coach. Turner remains a respected offensive co-ordinator; Wannstedt is essentially out of football after bouncing all over the NFL and college.
Many other co-ordinators were promoted to head coach, and discovered quickly that it was a job that they either could not do well or did not want to do. Most of them were fired and went back to being good (and in some cases great) co-ordinators. The Dallas Cowboys currently have Scott Linehan and Rod Marinelli as their offensive and defensive co-ordinators respectively. Both men were head coaches without much success, but are clearly back in the right job. Jim Schwartz was a failure as a head coach first time round, but remains an excellent defensive co-ordinator.
The role of head coach is a multi-faceted one, and coaching is only part of it. Co-ordinators promoted to head coach tend by nature to focus on the side of the ball that they came from, which leads to a number of head coaches who were offensive co-ordinators continuing to call plays during games. This tends to disenfranchise the team’s offensive co-ordinator, and de-focusses the coach. Ditto defensive minded coaches who try to run the defense in games. That usually results in issues with the offense not being addressed (Todd Bowles). There are too many game-day distractions and this often shows up in other detail areas such as clock management, where teams routinely screw up basics because nobody is paying attention on a continual basis during games.
HIring teams and GMs tend to place way too much emphasis on co-ordinators from successfully (especially Superbowl-winning) teams.
The “hire the Hot Co-Ordinator” approach has therefore resulted in significant disappointments over the years, particularly as teams hired co-ordinators away from the New England Patriots, only to discover that they did not function at all well outside of the unique environment of excellence that Bill Belichick created and maintains in that franchise. The two enduring co-ordinators of the 2000s Patriots dynasty (Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis) were hired away to become NFL and college head coaches respectively. Neither man succeeded in their new jobs, they both looked over-matched and out of their depth. Crennel is back doing what he does best as a co-ordinator in the NFL, Weis is living on his golden parachutes from 2 college teams. Eric Mangini had two spells as a head coach without success, was caught up in the Spygate scandal, and is now in limbo. Josh McDaniel, hired by the Denver Broncos in 2010, began with an unbeaten run in the 2010 season and looked like a genius coaching hire for a season, before the team lapsed into mediocrity and he was fired, going back to New England. The jury is out on Bill O’Brien in Houston.
College head coaches are a hit-or-miss proposition, mostly miss. Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban and Chip Kelly were all college head coaches who spent time in the NFL and found that some of the natural advantages that they enjoyed in college such as superior recruiting, stacked schedules, and total roster and team control either did not exist in the NFL, or were completely different in nature.
Occasionally teams succeed by going outside the box. The Baltimore Ravens raised eyebrows when they hired John Harbaugh, who was a special teams coach, not a co-ordinator, but they have won a Superbowl under his tenure. However, that remains an isolated exception. Most teams think that the Hot Co-Ordinator is the safe and/or exciting and sexy option.
In the meantime, Jeff Garcia has still not been interviewed by the 49ers. They might just need to interview him eventually, since their GM and head coach positions are regarded as the least attractive in the league right now. The 49ers are likely to be short of suitors when the recruitment cycle music stops.

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The 49ers trainwreck – and a volunteer

So it comes to this. The son of the titular owner of the 49ers, asked the obvious question at a press conference, responds by essentially sticking out his tongue at the media and the fan base.
The more I read about Jed York, the more I become convinced that he is the second coming of Tony George.
Yes, that Tony George. The man who, suffused with resentment and hubris after (as he saw it) being frozen out of decision-making in American open-wheel racing, took his ball and stick away, starting the Indy Racing League in 1995, a move that ultimately crippled top-flight US open-wheel racing for over 20 years. The sport has still not recovered to this day. Many years ago, somebody nicknamed Tony George “the idiot grandson”. The nickname stuck. Eventually in 2010, George’s own family tired of his spending family money on his crusades, and took away his stick and ball, but not after immense damage had been done.
The arc of the decision-making of the 49ers is looking more and more like the days of the CART_IRL battle. After hiring Jim Harbaugh and watching him coach the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance and (almost) a second one, the ownership decided that they could not tolerate Harbaugh’s behavior, and parted company with him. Having decided that they could not tolerate a strong-willed coach, they then promoted Jim Tomsula from within to be the head coach. Tomsula had a long and distinguished coaching record with the 49ers, but he had no previous team leadership experience, and the feeling was that the 49ers ownership had hired him because he would be compliant and non-confrontational. They were essentially following a classic model where a respected but confrontational and demanding leader is replaced by a more collegial leader.
What is interesting is that this is not even the first time that the 49ers parted company with a successful head coach. Back in 2003, the 49ers, with John York leading the ownership, fired Steve Mariucci after a season where the team had made it to the second round of the playoffs, losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who won the SuperBowl. The reasons for the firing were never revealed publicly.
Jim Tomsula proceeded to prove that he was in over his head in the 2015 season, including rambling press conferences where he sometimes seemed confused. The 49ers finished 5-11 and the ownership fired Tomsula, paying him $14m to sit at home and tend to his garden, while they then hired Chip Kelly, who had been fired by the Eagles before the end of the season, his grand experiment of bringing college tactics to an NFL team seemingly at an end.
At the same time, players voted with their feet, leaving in free agency or retiring. That should have been an indication that things were about to get much worse. In the NFL, poorly managed teams always have trouble attracting and keeping free agents, who have been around the game long enough to sniff out dysfunction, and, with limited playing lives, they want no part of it.
Kelly, beset by the lack of good players, proved unable to coax any better performance out of the team, who finished 2-14. Now he has been fired, along with General Manager Trent Baalke.
The 49ers have, in the usual way, cleaned house.
That was the easy part. The much more difficult part is beginning. How do you attract a high quality General Manager and coach to a franchise where the ownership leader (Jed York) behaves like he is out of his depth? York appears to have no established leader in the organization with a solid football background at present. Unless he is able to tap into advice from elsewhere, it is difficult to see how he is going to be able to make insightful and informed decisions about who to interview and who to hire.
The 49ers situation has been described in multiple media outlets as the least desirable coaching/GM vacancy in the NFL, so it is not likely that any of the top-line names are going to be interested.
One man has already volunteered his services. Former player Jeff Garcia.
This might superficially be a daft idea, but the 49ers could do a lot worse than to hire a former player who, rejected by the NFL because he was perceived to be under-sized, went to the CFL and built a career there before returning to become the starting quarterback of the 49ers for a number of seasons. Garcia was a fiery personality on and off the field in his playing days, but one thing he could not be accused of was lack of effort and intensity.
The 49ers may have to get creative and hire a non-obvious candidate. Maybe they should interview Jeff Garcia…

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The sad decline of RG III continues

Back in 2015, I wrote this article about the decline of Robert Griffin III as an NFL quarterback.
His decline, and the impact on the Redskins, was documented in this article, featuring a film breakdown by former Redskins player Chris Cooley. The article shows that Griffin’s skills at reading NFL defenses were so deficient that even operating with a simplified playbook, Griffin was unable to move the Redskins offense down the field.However, the article also makes the point that, even more than 2 years removed from his injury, Griffin had not only lost his speed, he had also lost the ability to rapidly move left in the pocket. Cooley explains how this has had a profound negative impact on his whole game:

“He can’t move left, he can’t slide [his feet], he always turns to run. When he’s moving in the pocket, it’s always a running gesture, it’s always a tuck-ball-and-run gesture. It’s not keep poised, keep shoulder back, keep ball pressed back ready to throw, shuffle and slide. It’s a tuck-ball-run, then look to throw. This takes all vision off the field for Robert. When he takes all vision off the field at this point, he loses where he wants to go with the football. Which means unless someone’s coming across the field, directly into his vision, he is not able to find them or throw to them.”

Griffin signed with the Cleveland Browns in the offseason, and seemingly won the starting QB job, but his injury bad luck returned again in his first game, when he suffered a broken bone in his shoulder which landed him on injured reserve. Prior to suffering the injury, some of his old issues were clearly still present, although other Browns players did not help the offense.
Returning to the starting line-up last week, Griffin posted another poor performance, with a completion percentage of just over 40% and a QB rating in the 20s.
Increasingly the career arc of RG III resembles that of Jason Sehorn, who for a couple of seasons was a genuine shutdown cornerback for the Giants, with blazing speed that allowed him to beat any wide receiver in the league to the ball. However, Sehorn ruptured his ACL and suffered other knee damage while returning a punt in the 1997 pre-season. When he returned the following year, it soon became clear that the injury had robbed him of his speed. He went from being a top-tier cornerback to an average, then mediocre cornerback, and ended his career as a mediocre safety, beset by other injuries.
RG III is now at the point in his career where he has to either show that he can operate usefully as a pocket passer, or be rejected by NFL teams. The era of offenses built mostly around the read option is temporarily over in the NFL. Teams now know how to shut down that type of offense, and RG III lacks the running speed to even stretch a defense if he keeps the ball.
So far, the evidence is that RG III lacks the ability and/or willpower to make the change. To be fair, other running quarterbacks also failed to adapt.
If RG III wants to make the leap before he lands on the scrap-heap, he might want to arrange to spend some time with Steve Young picking his brains. Young arrived to the 49ers as the heir-apparent to Joe Montana, but with a completely different playing style. Montana was the classical pocket passer, with incredible poise under pressure, great accuracy and the ability to bring the team from behind in games – his fourth quarter comebacks are the stuff of legend. Young, at that stage of his career, would take off running at the first sign of trouble and try to make things happen on the run. As he explains:

…when Bill got hold of me I remember him pulling me aside and saying ‘Steve, nobody knows where you are.’ And I’d go run for 10 yards, or I’d scramble around and throw the ball for a nice completion or something and he’d say, ‘That’s great. But nobody knows where you are. And the truth is, if you really want to make the most of it — get everything out of the play that I call. You left early. You didn’t explore every avenue or option. And people need to know where you are.’ And I remember thinking ‘Oh, crap. I better be where everyone expects me to be. And do everything that everyone expects me to do with this play. I’ve got to exhaust it.’

Note the key repeated message in the paragraph – “nobody knows where you are”. If the offensive line does not know where their quarterback is, they cannot protect him effectively. As the 2014 film breakdown from Chris Cooley showed, RG III was not only failing to pass the ball to the planned receivers for a play, he was also moving all over the place behind the O-line, but not in a useful-slide-around-the-pocket way. He was either running all over the place, or standing like a statue a long way behind the O-line. The first approach takes you out from behind offensive line protection. The second approach allows defensive players to run around the corner straight at the quarterback. As a result he was sacked a lot.
RG III operated like Harry Houdini for a season, but was injured doing so. Now he has a limited time to re-tool his approach, before the Exit door snaps shut on his NFL career.

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Sunday evening quick thoughts

1. Skeerdykats who sign on to hyperbole
Earlier today I found an article (linked from a Tweet) that alleged that if Hillary Clinton becomes President, she is going to stack the Supreme Court and arrange for the abolition of the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 8th and 10th Amendments.
When I read this kind of “pure terror and fear” commentary being passed around, I can fairly safely conclude that the people signed on to this idea are, to use an old English expression, barking mad. My guess is that they spent way too much time in online echo chambers and watching legendarily objective sources of information such as Fox News. This sort of language, dripping with fear and trepidation, is exactly what I find on talk radio and in online echo chambers. Humans are horribly vulnerable to being impacted by what they just heard or saw.
Frankly, with this level of fear and anxiety, I am surprised that some of these people can even leave home in the mornings.


2. Affirmation and reflection of opinions

A good indication that a website or discussion thread is operating as an echo chamber is the presence of massive cursory agreement of commenters (usually responses like “right on!”, “agreed” etc. etc. ) and the almost complete absence of contrary opinions. On the rare occasions on which people do express contrary views, they are invariably dismissed as “idiots”, “sheeple”, “dupes”, or one of a pantheon of general purpose strawman insults (of which the most popular, among the authoritarian community, is “libtard”).
Here’s the uncomfortable fact about echo chambers that many people need to understand. If you inhabit that sort of environment, then you may feel comfortable and vindicated in your opinions and beliefs. However, it is likely that you will learn nothing while you are in that environment. The most you might get is a greater ability with juvenile put-downs.
Reading simply to have your opinions reflected back at you teaches you nothing. People don’t learn much while in a comfort zone.

3. The Deplorables on Twitter
A while ago I noted in a blog posting that most of the people whose Twitter handle includes some variant of the word “deplorable” were demonstrating, every time they said something on Twitter, that they were unattractive Donald Trump supporters. Specifically they were angry, incoherent, mean-spirited asshats.
I would like to withdraw that comment.
They are deluded angry, incoherent, mean-spirited asshats. They live in a weird parallel universe where black is white, up is down, and Donald Trump wins everything just by turning up.

4. Mike McCoy, we hardly knew ye
I am going out on a limb here to make a prediction that has nothing to do with election season.
If the San Diego Chargers lose next weekend, Mike McCoy will be fired during the team’s bye week. The Chargers are a mess, they lost again today, and ownership has to be seen to be doing something as they struggle to either get a better deal from the city of San Diego, or as they ready for a flight up the coast to Los Angeles.

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Hot Seat Assessment – NFL at quarter season

HOT
Mike McCoy
The Chargers finished 4-12 last year and McCoy had to fire a bunch of assistants in order to survive. An interim option exists on the staff in the form of former Titans and Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, so if things do not improve McCoy might not even survive the bye week.

Gus Bradley
In year 4 of his head coaching tenure, the Jaguars are still mediocre, and Blake Bortles is still throwing interceptions. Unless the team improves rapidly, I can see Bradley being the first head coach to be canned after the season. Ownership cannot be accused of lacking patience.

Warm
John Fox
The Bears look mediocre again this year, and apparent mis-steps such as the replacement of Robbie Gould with Connor Barth are starting to piss off the fans. Jay Cutler looked good in Adam Gase’s offense last year, but once again he has a new offensive co-ordinator, which is never good for a quarterback.

Dirk Koetter
The Bucs have no ground game, which is forcing Jameis Winston to throw more than he should, and as a result the interceptions are piling up. Koetter does not seem to know when to keep quiet in public about his players’ performance. So far he has thrown his kicker and his quarterback under the bus in press conferences. That sort of blame game tends to get noticed in the locker room.

Mike Mularkey
The Titans were bad last season, and look like being mediocre this season also. Mularkey already fired special teams coach Bobby April, which is never a good sign. Marcus Mariota looks frustrated by the poor offense, and the history of franchise quarterbacks suggests that if they fall out with the head coach, the coach is usually the one who leaves.

Chuck Pagano
The Colts still have no durable O-line to protect Andrew Luck. Until this is fixed, the team will be mediocre, and owners generally do not like to see the cornerstone of the franchise being carted to the locker room.

Jim Caldwell
The Lions are in danger of lapsing into mediocrity. They have no deep replacement for Calvin Johnson.

Lukewarm
Ron Rivera
The Panthers have started poorly this year, and Cam Newton is trying too hard to make things happen and suffering big hits as a result. The team needs to steady the ship and get back to winning.

Bruce Arians
The Cardinals have started poorly, and with several core team members on offense nearing the end of their careers (Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer), the Cardinals may struggle to get above .500 for the rest of the season. Arians has a short fuse, and if he picks on the wrong players, he could lose the team.

Rex Ryan
A recent pasting of the Patriots has probably taken some of the pressure off, but Rex Ryan is like a wild card collection all to himself. You never know what he is going to do or say next. That makes for great media copy, but not a sound basis for a winning team in the long term.

Todd Bowles
Bowles’ seat may be in danger if the Jets cannot fix their spluttering offense. Ryan Fitzpatrick can look good one week and horrible the next.

Sean Payton
The Saints are putting up big numbers on offense, but the defense is a leaky bucket.

Bill O’Brien
The Texans look to be almost there in terms of winning games.

Chip Kelly
It would be a shock if ownership dispensed with Kelly after one season, but then they also managed to run off Jim Harbaugh 2 years ago, and they are paying Jim Tomsula $14m to not coach anywhere, so logic and consistency are not their strong suits.

Adam Gase
Dolphins ownership will probably give Gase at least 2 years, but right now the Dolphins are just not a very good team.

Jay Gruden
The Redskins are inconsistent, and part of that is due to inconsistent quarterback play. Right now, the decision to not give Kirk Cousins a long term contract looks like a good one. What happens at the end of the season probably comes down to how much the owner wants to interfere again.

Cold
Jason Garrett
The Cowboys looked dead in the water before Week 1 when Tony Romo went on IR with a back injury, but Dak Prescott is looking like the quarterback steal of the draft, and the Cowboys being at 3-1 says a lot about the coaching staff.

Doug Pederson
The Eagles are riding high thanks partly to the decision to play Carson Wentz in his first year as a replacement for Sam Bradford. The trade to Minnesota looks like one of the rare win:win trades.

Bill Belichick
Belichick is coach at New England for as long as he wants the job.

Ben McAdoo

Year 1 for McAdoo and no change can or should be expected.

Pete Carroll
With two recent Superbowl trips, Carroll is in no danger whatsoever.

Mike Zimmer
At 4-0, Zimmer is already assured of hero status in Minnesota after the Vikings solved their QB problem in style by trading for Sam Bradford. Adrian Peterson may or may not be back and the running game is still weak, but the Vikings have a sound defense and defense wins Superbowls.

John Harbaugh
Ravens ownership does not pull the cord on coaches at all readily. The Ravens are struggling in the run game, and Joe Flacco may not be at 100% yet, but I do not see a change.

Jeff Fisher
after week 1 there was speculation that Fisher would not make it to week 2, so bad were the Rams in the opening game. Now at 3-1, things have changed completely.

Dan Quinn
The Falcons are now putting up big numbers on offense in the second year of Kyle Shanahan’s tenure as offensive co-ordinator. As long as the big numbers continue everybody will be quite happy.

Andy Reid
Ownership is patient, but the team may be in rebuild mode soon, with many of its best players nearer the end of their careers than the beginning.

Hue Jackson
The Browns are in the basement at 0-4, but everything Hue Jackson says and does shows that is in the job for the long haul. The Browns have a massive pile of draft picks already for next year, and intend to rebuild via the draft while letting disenchanted free agents move on. They may be secretly hoping for the #1 pick in the draft so they can find their franchise quarterback.

Mike Tomlin
Pittburgh ownership is interested in stability.

Mike McCarthy
See Pittsburgh. The Packers have a massive and loyal fan base and McCarthy is in no danger.

Marvin Lewis
Ownership likes Lewis because he is relatively affordable, keeps a low profile and keeps getting the Bengals into the playoffs.

Jack Del Rio
With a maturing franchise quarterback and something approaching the old smashmouth Raiders identity in the team thanks to Del Rio’s coaching, and with a possible move to Las Vegas on the cards, ownership needs stability.

Gary Kubiak
Kubiak and John Elway are joined at the hip.

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NFL Comments from an Armchair viewer

1. Dallas Cowboys
They changed quarterbacks, but the quarterback play level was no better overall. Matt Cassel threw 3 interceptions, which cost the Cowboys 13 points. He did show more flexibility in ball distribution, and made several nice throws, but the interceptions were the difference in the score. One might expect that he will improve, but if he does not, benching Brandon Weeden will come to be seen as pointless. The injury to Tony Romo showed that the Cowboys, like many teams who have a franchise quarterback, have no Plan B at that position. (Look around the league and tell me how many teams with a high-dollar franchise quarterback have a durable, reliable #2 who can come off the bench and lead the team. It’s a short list isn’t it?)
The bigger issue is Greg Hardy. His disruptive behavior on the sideline reminds me of Charles Haley when he was playing. Haley turned out to have undiagnosed bipolar syndrome, and I suspect Hardy has the same mental condition. The Cowboys need to get Hardy straightened out fast, before the NFL or the judicial system hijacks him for sanctions once more.

2. New York Giants
They are winning ugly, but finding ways to win. They do not look good on offense or defense, but special teams came up big against the Cowboys.

3. 49’ers
The 49ers are just not a very good football team right now in any area. They lost a lot of players in the off-season, and it is difficult to not conclude that the reason so many players retired is because they did not want to play for a coaching staff led by Jim Tomsula. Tomsula behaves on the sideline and in press conferences like he is out of his depth. His room for manouver is limited. He has a #1 quarterback who is not the finished article, a #2 quarterback that nobody wants to see on the field of play, and holes on offense and defense. While he can babble on about performances being “unacceptable”, benching players is not an option when you have no adequate replacements.
I fear that the ownership, worn down by the incessant squabbles with Jim Harbaugh, wanted a quiet life with a new head coach, and went for the safe in-house candidate who would do the bidding of the ownership. This is remarkably similar to the mode of operation of Jerry Jones after he fired Jimmy Johnson, when he cycled through a succession of non head coaches (Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey and Dave Campo) before swallowing hard and hiring Bill Parcells.
It no action is taken by ownership soon to upgrade the team or the coaching staff, the 49ers risk falling into the same trap as the Oakland Raiders, who, known for being dysfunctional, could only attract free agents by offering too much money to players mostly on the downside of their careers. As a result, they ended up in cap hell, with an ageing roster, and a mediocre coaching staff, and only now are they breaking out of that zone with Jack Del Rio, who has already shown that he is not afraid to jettison high priced free agents if they are not going to be contributors. Right now, based on current performance, a number of people in San Francisco may soon be pointing out that the 49ers are no longer in San Francisco (translation: Santa Clara, you can have them).

4. Carolina Panthers
Quietly advancing to 6-0, the Panthers are not a glamorous team, but an effective one. They have experience and youth in equal measure, and Cam Newton looks mature and polished, quite different to the reckless ball-heaver of 3 seasons ago.

5. Seattle Seahawks
I am not quite sure what to make of this team. They have all of the talent, but they are misfiring badly on both sides of the ball. In particular, Russell Wilson is being sacked way too often. I worry that if he is knocked out, the Seahawks offense will splutter badly.

6. San Diego
They cannot win a game to save their life. They seem to be unable to play consistently for 60 minutes, and have a habit of going walkabout in the second half.

7. Houston Texans
This roster needs a stick of dynamite. They just lost their best running threat Arian Foster to what looks like a season ending injury, and they have a porous offensive line. Both of their quarterbacks are backups who are inconsistent, and one of them cannot set an alarm clock. They have next to no offensive playmakers..the list goes on.

8. Miami Dolphins
Having dumped Principal Philbin, the Dolphins handed the coaching job to tight ends coach Dan Campbell, and suddenly this is a different team. Either the team had tuned out Joe Philbin, or he was just not an energizing coach, because they hung 41 points on the Hpuston Texans in less than two quarters on Sunday, after looking for weeks like they were lifeless, and incapable of getting out of their own way. If they keep on like this, they may make the playoffs, which will validate the decision to fire Philbin, in an era where mid-season coaching changes seldom work well.

9. Jacksonville
This team still looks to be struggling. They are inconsistent, and weak on both offense and defense. I am wondering if the coaching staff is overmatched.

10. New Orleans
After starting badly, they are picking up momentum. They may not be good enough to make the playoffs, and they have major decisions to make in the next off-season, most notably about Drew Brees who is 36 years of age with an astronomical cap number for 2016. Their roster needs a makeover, and with Brees on the roster at his current cap number that will be impossible.

11. Kansas City
With a dink and dunk offense with no playmakers, and a running game shorn of Jamal Charles, the Chiefs look to be going backwards from 2 seasons ago. They need a roster makeover.

12. Tampa Bay
The shine is off of the Lovie Smith era. The team is inconsistent, and incapable of holding onto leads deep into the second half of games. Jameis Winston is making mistakes as one would expect from a rookie, but he is not getting much support from the offense. If this mediocrity continues, Smith may find himself on the hot seat before the end of the season.

13. Indianapolis Colts
The main question for the last month has been when Chuck Pagano will be fired, especially following the bungled fake punt play in a recent game, which brought down ridicule on the team and the coaches. Now the main question may be when Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson will be fired.
The more practical issue is that Andrew Luck does not look to be 100% when playing, despite there being no injury report entry for him. Yet his passes are floating and lack zip and accuracy. Right now, the Colts might be better served by having Matt Hasselbeck under center.

14. Denver Broncos
A 6-0 team being carried by its defense, with a struggling quarterback (which sounds remarkably similar to the story from 2011, when Tim Tebow was under center). This will be Peyton Manning’s last NFL season. His passes are starting to look more and more like wounded ducks. Enjoy one of the great NFL quarterbacks while you can. Whether the Broncos will make it deep into the post-season may depend on the defense. Maybe they can win like the 2001 Baltimore Ravens, using an adequate offense and a suffocating defense.

15. Philadelphia Eagles
Difficult to know what to make of this team. After purging or trading many veterans, swapping quarterbacks and overhauling the schemes, the team is inconsistent, including the quarterback. The strange thing is that there is almost no sign of the offensive innovations that everybody thinks of when the name “Chip Kelly” is mentioned. The Eagles are now playing an offense at a tempo like many other NFL teams, with few wrinkles, next to no gadget plays. It is almost as though Kelly has determined that Boring is Best.

16. New England Patriots
Another 6-0 team despite inconsistency. When your leading rusher in a game is your quarterback, who is not renowned for his mobility, and you are throwing the ball almost every down, but you are still winning, that tells you how good the team preparation and coaching is. Dour and uninformative Bill Belichick may be, but his methods work.

17. St. Louis Rams
They just seem to be inconsistent, like many NFL teams. The big question is when they will move back to California.

18. Cleveland Browns
This team remains in dysfunction, with a #1 quarterback who is streaky, and a #2 quarterback who is still working out how to function as a profesional adult. The roster is full of holes. As a result, the results are not good. Coaching changes may be on the way.

19. Arizona Cardinals
They were cruising a month ago, now they are not looking so good. Teams may have worked out how to cope with their passing attack, and things may be tougher for the rest of the season. The good news is that they are still the leaders in a weak division.

20. Washington Redskins
Although Kirk Cousins still throws too many interceptions, the team just won big after coming back from a deep hole, and those kinds of wins tend to energize a team. They may yet be able to run the table in November and December.

21. Cincinnati Bengals
The best hidden 6-0 team. They may yet be this year’s surprise regular season winner. The challenge is winning in the playoffs. Andy Dalton needs to ask Tony Romo how frustrating that can be.

22. Buffalo Bills
After a bright start, the mayhem of Rex Ryan’s man management is starting to rise up once again. For some reason, Ryan cannot stop talking, and as a result his team is undisciplined and sloppy. The team needs to take a good look at itself and sharpen up quickly on both sides of the ball, or this will become another lost season.

23. New York Jets
After the start of season brou-ha-ha over Geno Smith and his broken jaw, the Jets have settled down to play solid football, They may yet be in contention in January. I am sure that Ryan Fitzpatrick is glad he is not in Houston right now…

24. Green Bay Packers
Despite injuries, the Packers continue to move along like a well-oiled machine. As long as Aaron Rodgers remains under center, their presence in the post-season is assured.

25. Chicago Bears
Although nobody is prepared to admit it, the Bears are already rebuilding. Their trading of players shows that they are working for the future. The big offseason decision will be on Jay Cutler, who continues to be infuriatingly mistake-prone, suffering from Jake Plummer Hurl-The-Ball Disease at least a couple of times a game.

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What next, Tim Tebow?

For the second time in 3 seasons…
The decision by the Philadelphia Eagles to terminate the contract of Tim Tebow did not surprise me. Many NFL teams only carry two quarterbacks, partly because of roster needs elsewhere, and partly because under NFL rules, there are severe restrictions on how a third quarterback can be used in games. Basically a third QB can only be called upon if the #1 and #2 quarterbacks cannot play any more, usually due to injury, and once he enters the game the other two quarterbacks cannot return. This is why many NFL teams activate only two quarterbacks on game day, with another player on the roster designated as the emergency quarterback. Usually that player has played quarterback in the past prior to joining the NFL, and can execute a small number of plays if called upon.
The decision by the Eagles to sign a #3 quarterback (Stephen Morris) who has never seen any in-season game action to replace Tim Tebow is somewhat puzzling, but there may be financial reasons behind it. There are several established quarterbacks looking for work after roster cut-downs but if they are on the opening day rosters, their salaries are guaranteed for the season. The likes of Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, Matt Flynn and Rex Grossman, all of who have been starting QBs in the league, may find a team signs them only after week 1, so that they can always be dropped later if roster needs change. The Eagles may have signed Stephen Morris simply to take a look at him to determine if he has any potential. After week 1, they could drop him and sign one of the established free agent quarterbacks. They could also re-sign Tebow, although given Chip Kelly’s comments that he is not good enough for a #3 role at present, that would be a surprising turnaround.
The only way I could see Tebow being signed back by the Eagles would be If both their #1 and #2 quarterbacks were knocked out due to injury. That is not impossible since Sam Bradford has suffered 2 ACL tears in 2 seasons, and Mark Sanchez suffered a serious shoulder injury while playing for the New York Jets.
Tim Tebow went through waivers without being claimed, so he is now a free agent. At this stage it is unlikely that any team is going to try and sign him for this season – except possibly the Eagles if they lose a quarterback – Tebow should know the system and the playbook by now…
The big question is whether Tim Tebow would consider the CFL as an alternative place to play. Other quarterbacks such as Warren Moon, Doug Flutie and Jeff Garcia went to the CFL for periods of time when the NFL ignored them. Many people are arguing that the CFL is a poor fit for Tebow, because of the three-downs rule, which results in the emphasis being on the passing game, and the field is slightly longer and wider than the NFL field. The thinking is that Tebow’s lack of accuracy will be magnified in a passing league.
I am not sure that I agree with the hypothesis. Tebow can throw the ball a reasonable distance. He is not able to fire the ball long distances, but Doug Flutie and Jeff Garcia did not have a cannon for an arm either, and they were very successful in the CFL as scrambling quarterbacks who could hurt teams by running as much as passing, which is where Tebow also excels. At the end of the day, arm strength can be a curse as much as a blessing (think: Jeff George).
The bigger question is whether Tim Tebow would want to enter the CFL at the present time. His CFL rights are currently held by the Montreal Alouettes, but that team is in turmoil right now in the middle of a poor season, having fired their head coach and offensive co-ordinator, with the GM (Jim Popp) now coaching the team. The Alouettes are also fresh from the distraction of managing another NFL reject named Michael Sam, who engaged in a “will he won’t he show up” routine before walking away from the team after one mediocre performance.
Realistically, if Tim Tebow wants to play football, he only has the CFL or the AFL as options. Either one of them could give him game play that he desperately needs in order to solidify his new throwing motion. Whether he can be successful enough in either league to make it back into the NFL is another question. However, once upon a time, a little-known quarterback from Northern Iowa, having been undrafted and dispensed with by NFL teams, plied his trade in the AFL and then NFL Europe before returning to the NFL as a backup and beginning one of the great Hero from Zero stories.
Tim Tebow is a victim partly of his own inadequacies, but has also been rendered less useful by the end of the read-option fad in the NFL. When he entered the NFL in 2010, the read-option (following on from the Wildcat formation) was a new idea for the modern NFL, and for a while many teams did not know how to defend it, but they soon learned how to contain read-option quarterbacks, and several other quarterbacks who entered the NFL at the same time who were reckoned to be read-option threats are either out of the NFL (Pat White), trying to change positions (Terrelle Pryor) or hanging on by a thread (Robert Griffin III). There is no sign of any significant read-option play-calling in normal game situations in the NFL at present, although there may be one or two gadget plays called in critical game situations.
A bigger question is whether the difference between college football and the NFL is becoming too great for many college quarterbacks to thrive in the NFL. I have not performed any analysis, but it seems that an increasing number of quarterbacks from top-flight college programs are, in some cases, not even being considered by NFL teams. Usually, they are hybrid quarterbacks who also run with the ball. They do not match the prototypical NFL quarterback profile of the tall stand-in-the-pocket general, which is still the preferred operating mode of a league that is, at its heart, very risk-averse. A good example is Blake Sims, who despite appearing in a college title game last season for Alabama, is now bouncing around the CFL, having been briefly considered and rejected by 2 NFL teams as an undrafted free agent, not even playing as a quarterback.
The fact that it has taken NFL teams the best part of 10 years to take Kevin Kelley’s Paluxy Academy possession football approach seriously tells you all you need to know about the innate conservatism of the NFL. There is a reason why many football fans prefer college and high school football, and it has a lot to do with more open and exciting play-calling.
I am left with the uncomfortable feeling that a lot of NFL head coaches and offensive co-ordinators are “system guys”, who try to sign players to fit their system, rather than maximizing a player’s unique skills. But…the fact that the two NFL coaches least likely to pursue a “system” approach, Bill Belichick and Chip Kelly, both spent a fair amount of time evaluating Tim Tebow and decided not to use him in an NFL season, is not exactly flattering to Tebow.

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That long running NFL deflation saga

A few quick words about the Deflation saga (No, I refuse to use a word including a suffix word beginning with G. That is so…1970’s).
A judge today vacated the 4 game suspension imposed on Tom Brady and, in the process, excoriated and dismissed most of the NFL’s arguments in its pleadings.
Some quick points:
1. Roger Goodell is not going to be fired…yet. He works for the NFL’s owners, and he will leave only when they decide they want somebody else to be the Commissioner. However, it is clear that some owners are apprehensive and concerned about the clearly negative PR impact of the saga.
2. Despite his occasional attempts to portray himself as neutral in matters of discipline and punishment, Goodell is not neutral. See (1) above
3. If Tom Brady’s suspension has been vacated, then the future draft picks removed from the New England Patriots ought to be restored also. It seems fundamentally unfair that the team’s quarterback’s punishment has been vacated, but the team’s punishment has not been vacated.
4. Despite the NFL’s insistence that they will appeal, they have not asked for a stay. I suspect that this is partly because they know they are unlikely to get one (if you have just been told that your arguments are mostly steaming brown fertilizer, the reaction to an application for a stay is likely to be either laughter or a GTFOOMC), but also partly because they realize that, with the season about to begin, the focus needs to be on playing games, not arguing about player discipline. NBC, Fox, ESPN et al are paying for the product on the pitch, not the behind-scenes wrangling. I expect the NFL are appealing because they can, not because they feel they have any chance of success
5. The NFL has now been slapped around the head over three recent disciplinary matters; Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, and now the deflation saga. (We must also not forget the earlier decision by Paul Tagliabue to vacate a number of punishments for the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal.)
6. The domino effect of this result will be felt from this point forward, with players who have been disciplined by the NFL very likely to threaten or actually take the NFL to court to get suspensions and fines overturned. The credibility of the entire NFL disciplinary process is somewhere between zero and diddly squat at present.
There are some bigger underlying dynamics that have only occasionally been discussed in the media:
1. The NFL has a labor agreement, but it does not have labor peace. The owners bailed early on the last CBA, which was negotiated by Paul Tagliabue and the late Gene Upshaw, because they decided that it was too favorable to the players. They then hoarded cash and hard-line owners made it clear that they would support a lock-out if they did not get what they wanted from a new CBA. The new CBA is more favorable to the owners, and the NFL players know that and resent it. One way in which it is more favorable is the provision for the Commissioner to dispense discipline as he sees fit. This is an easy target for the players to fire at, partly because of the recent extent to which Goodell has used his disciplinary powers to sanction players for perceived bad behavior under the current CBA, but also because the players can fight individual instances of player discipline whenever they occur. They have no recourse over the rest of the CBA, which has no opt-out clauses on either side, and runs until the end of the 2020 season.
2. By all accounts, Goodell’s actions on discipline have been consistently supported by a group of hard-line owners who believe that the NFL should be able to impose pretty much any sort of discipline it sees fit. Those owners (who are, for the most part, elderly rich guys used to getting their way in life) are the ones leading the get-tough approach. Now that the NFL has been slapped around the head in court, it will be interesting to see if the hard-line faction loses influence, or whether they dig in. Ultimately, Roger Goodell will do what the majority of owners want him to do. If he fails to do their bidding, he will be replaced, although there is no obvious successor waiting, unlike when Paul Tagliabue was Commissioner, when Goodell was the heir-apparent for several years, and his accession to Commissioner after Tagliabue’s retirement was one of the most obvious worst-kept secrets in sports.

The net result is exemplified by De Maurice Smith’s quote from Profootball Talk:

“Asked about the players’ trust in the league and Goodell, Smith answered, “It’s gone.””

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